Making its first 11 shots appeared enough for No. 6 Duke to put East Carolina away early on Tuesday night.
The determined Pirates had other things to say.
For the Blue Devils, though, the final words came from Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, their versatile stars who made the plays that delivered an 83-74 NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Hood scored a career-high 30 points, fueled by 12-of-12 free throw shooting. He made six free throws in the final two minutes as Duke, which had led by 18 points in the first half, held on after ECU (4-1) pulled within a point twice in the second half.
“I thought Hood was sensational,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Parker made sure the Pirates couldn’t get over the hump to tie or take a lead. The 6-8 freshman scored 21 points while also grabbing nine rebounds and blocking six shots.
Two of his blocks came on the same ECU possession around the two-minute mark when Duke held a 75-70 lead. Parker swatted away Prince Williams’ shot and, seconds later, did the same for Antonio Robinson’s layup attempt.
Duke’s Tyler Thornton grabbed the rebound, Hood sank two free throws at 1:40 and ECU never drew closer than five again.
“Jabari’s play full court probably broke the ice for us,” Krzyzewski said. “It was a statement play. It made our guys respond.”
Parker authored another outstanding play with just under seven minutes remaining as Duke held a 64-63 lead. Parker missed a 3-pointer in the right corner and ECU’s Akeem Richmond grabbed the rebound to start a fast break. But Parker ran the length of the court to block Brandon Stith’s layup attempt to protect Duke’s lead.
“Winning plays,” Hood said. “That’s what we expect from him. He’s a great player and that’s what big-time players do — they make winning plays.”
Already having another strong offensive night, Parker said he realized he needed to contribute on the defensive end in the second half.
“Just helping my team as much as possible,” Parker said. “Their guard play was penetrating. They got to the rim and I was just doing what I had to do to help alter shots. Luckily, I anticipated the ball on time.”
Earlier, the Blue Devils (4-1) appeared well on their way to blasting the Pirates. Duke didn’t miss its first shot until freshman Semi Ojeleye’s 3-pointer bounced off with 11:14 left in the first half.
By then, Duke had opened a 23-9 lead. The Blue Devils extended their advantage to 41-23 when Quinn Cook drilled a 3-pointer with 3:41 left in the first half.
But Duke missed its final four shots of the second half while also committing a turnover during that stretch. ECU sliced the lead to 43-32 at halftime and then proved that Duke’s stumble in the final minutes of the half was no accident.
The Pirates used a zone defense that gave the Blue Devils fits. Duke shot 33.3 percent in the second half to finish at 47.4 percent for the game. It’s the first time this season that Duke has failed to shoot 50 percent or better.
“We were great against the zone (Monday) against Asheville,” Cook said. “It kind of stood us up against ECU. We have to get better at that.”
While Duke passed the ball around the perimeter and failed to finish shots, ECU’s guards drove aggressively to the basket and the Blue Devils’ lead kept shrinking.
Richmond scored 10 of his 13 points for ECU after halftime. Williams had 10 of his 15 in the final 20 minutes.
Williams’ drive inside for a basket with 10:31 left cut Duke’s lead to 58-55.
Cook, who scored 14 points and had 10 assists, sank a 3-pointer with 9:32 to play giving Duke a 62-57 lead. That was the Blue Devils’ third and final 3-pointer of the second half.
But Duke wouldn’t hit another field goal for another five minutes. Meanwhile, ECU pulled within a point when Robinson scored over Parker to leave Duke with a 62-61 lead at 7:37.
“They are playing real well and there is an incredible amount of game pressure,” Krzyzewski said. “You can cut it with a knife and I’m proud of my guys because we responded well and they never stopped playing well.”
It was 64-63 when Parker’s defense helped Duke begin to take control.
Hood praised ECU for its play and its resolve while admitting that the Blue Devils were tight.
“They are playing with free money,” Hood said. “They are playing on our home court. No pressure on them. All the pressure is on us.”
Duke finally withstood the pressure and the Pirates to clinch a berth in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals Nov. 27 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Duke will face Alabama, which beat Georgia State 75-58 Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
ECU coach Jeff Lebo, the former North Carolina guard, saw his squad fall one win short of that party. But not before the Pirates earned a measure of respect.
“Our team was ready to play and respected the heck out of East Carolina,” Krzyzewski said. “Don’t undersell what they did by saying we weren’t. We were ready and we played hard.”
|No. 6 DUKE 83, EAST CAROLINA 74|
Percentages: FG .403, FT .950.
3-Point Goals: 5-14, .357 (Richmond 3-6, White 1-2, Roberts-Campbell 1-4, Williams 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 4 (Stith 3, Zangari).
Turnovers: 15 (Williams 4, Roberts-Campbell 4, Robinson 2, Richmond 2, Guilmette, Zangari, White).
Steals: 6 (Robinson 4, Roberts-Campbell, Williams).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .474, FT .774.
3-Point Goals: 5-14, .357 (Hood 2-2, Cook 2-7, Parker 1-2, Ojeleye 0-1, Sulaimon 0-1, Dawkins 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 8 (Parker 6, Ojeleye, Hood).
Turnovers: 10 (Hood 3, Cook 2, Parker 2, Ojeleye, Sulaimon, Dawkins).
Steals: 9 (Dawkins 2, Thornton 2, Cook 2, Sulaimon 2, Parker).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials—Roger Ayers, Bryan Kersey, William Covington.